Children Need Social and Emotional Skills for School Success

Child and Family Learning Network September 29, 2015 Print Friendly and PDF

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Being ready for kindergarten is more than just learning letters and numbers. Child care providers support school readiness by helping young children learn social and emotional skills that contribute to school success. Most adults believe that crucial skills children need to be successful in school include saying the ABCs, naming colors, writing their name, and counting.  Most kindergarten teachers actually disagree. Kindergarten teachers say it is the social and emotional skills that children learn in child care that are most needed in elementary school. More and more children are entering school without these critical skills. Child care providers play a crucial role in preparing young children for kindergarten, socially as well as intellectually.

Social Skills are Crucial for Kindergarten

Elementary school teachers report that it is hard to teach children who are not interested in learning, lack confidence in their own abilities, and have trouble cooperating and controlling themselves. Intellectual skills are less of a problem because they are more easily solved. To succeed in school, children need a sense of personal well-being that is created from stable, caring relationships at home and in child care in the early years. Quality child care can make a difference. Studies of school achievement have consistently shown that high quality child care can get children off to the right start.

Child care providers can help young children develop the following social and emotional skills in order to be ready for school:

  • Ability to follow directions
  • Ability to focus attention
  • Ability to take turns
  • Ability to control themselves
  • Ability to solve problems with words rather than through aggression
  • Ability to work independently
  • Ability to work well in a group
  • Age-appropriate social skills and ability to make friends
  • Skills communicating with other children
  • Skills communicating with adults

Although having some adult-led large group activities is appropriate for older toddlers and preschoolers , child care providers should keep this large-group time active and short. The best way to help children develop these skills is to offer them a balance of “child choice time,” such as free play, and time to be in small groups when they’re asked to work together. Children learn important social and emotional skills when they have to solve problems that arise in play with others. With the guidance and support of their child care providers, children can face these problems and learn the skills needed to be successful in school and in life.

For More Information

To learn more about supporting and nurturing young children's social and emotional skills, see the following eXtension Alliance for Better Child Care articles:

If you are looking for specific activities to help children in your child care program learn social and emotional skills, check out the Hands-on Activities for Child Care database.


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This work is supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, New Technologies for Ag Extension project.